Françoise Gilot

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Françoise Gilot
Gilot in 2013
Françoise Gaime Gilot

(1921-11-26)26 November 1921
Died6 June 2023(2023-06-06) (aged 101)
Known forPainting
  • Luc Simon
    (m. 1955; div. 1962)
  • (m. 1970; died 1995)
PartnerPablo Picasso (1943–1953)
Children3, including Claude and Paloma Picasso
AwardsLegion of Honour

Françoise Gaime Gilot (26 November 1921 – 6 June 2023) was a French painter.[1] Gilot was an accomplished artist, notably in watercolors and ceramics, and a bestselling memoirist of the controversial Life with Picasso.

Gilot's artwork is showcased in more than a dozen leading museums including the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.[2] In 2021 her painting Paloma à la Guitare, a 1965 portrait of her daughter, sold for $1.3 million at Sotheby's in London.[3]

Gilot first made her mark in the post-War milieu of artists who redefined the European artistic landscape; her career then went on to span an impressive eight decades. Delving into the realms of mythology, symbolism, and the power of memory, Gilot's work explores complex philosophical ideas with spontaneity and freedom.[4]

Gilot is also known for her romantic partnership with Pablo Picasso as well as marriage to Jonas Salk, the American researcher who developed the first safe polio vaccine.[5]

In an interview questioning how she came to be with two of the most influential men in the world, Gilot responded, "Lions mate with lions."[6]

Early life[edit]

Gilot was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, to Émile Gilot and Madeleine Gilot (née Renoult). Her father was a businessman and agronomist, and her mother was a watercolor artist. Her father was a strict, well-educated man. Gilot began writing with her left hand as a young child, but at the age of four, her father forced her to write with her right hand. As a result, Gilot became ambidextrous. She decided at the age of five to become a painter. The following year her mother tutored her in art, beginning with watercolors and India ink. Gilot was then taught by her mother's art teacher, Mademoiselle Meuge, for six years.[7] She studied English literature at the University of Cambridge and the British Institute in Paris (now University of London Institute in Paris).[7] While training to be a lawyer, Gilot was known to skip her morning law classes to study art with Monsieur Gerber, a retired artist living in Paris. She graduated from the Sorbonne with a B.A. in philosophy in 1938 and from the University of Cambridge with a degree in English in 1939.[8] Gilot had her first exhibition of paintings in Paris in 1943.[9]


Gilot's father Emile wanted his daughter to be just as educated as him, and as a result, oversaw his daughter's education very closely. Gilot was tutored at home, beginning at a young age, and by the time she was six years old, she had a good knowledge of Greek mythology. By the age of fourteen, she was reading books by Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and Alfred Jarry.[10] While her father had hoped she would go to school to become a scientist or lawyer, Gilot was frequenting museums in Europe to understand and gain an appreciation for the masters. When Gilot was seventeen, she attended the Sorbonne and the British Institute in Paris and had a baccalaureate degree in Philosophy.[8] She received her English Literature degree from Cambridge University. During 1939, Gilot's father still wanted her to complete a degree in international law, and out of fear that Paris would be bombed during the war, Gilot was sent to Rennes, France, to begin law school. At the age of 19, she abandoned her studies in law to devote her life to art. She began private lessons with a fugitive Hungarian Jewish painter, Endre Rozsda, and attended classes at the Académie Julian.[11] In 1942, after abandoning law several times, and returning on the insistence of her father, Gilot studied law for a second year and passed her written exams, but failed her oral exams.[7]


At 21, Gilot met Pablo Picasso, then 61. Picasso first saw Gilot in a restaurant in the spring of 1943, during the German occupation of France.[11] Dora Maar, the photographer who was his muse and lover at the time, was devastated to learn that Picasso was replacing her with the much younger artist. After Picasso's and Gilot's meeting, she moved in with him in 1946. They spent almost 10 years together, and those years revolved around art. Picasso painted La femme-fleur, and then his old friend Henri Matisse, who liked Gilot, announced that he would create a portrait of her, in which her body would be pale blue and her hair leaf green.[12]

Gilot said of her relationship with Picasso: "He did not know me well at all. I am very secretive. I smile and I'm polite, but that doesn't mean that I am in agreement, or that I will do as I said I would do. It's just a screen. He thought I would react like all his other women. That was a completely wrong opinion. I had other ideas. I did not put my narcissism in being represented by him. I couldn't care less."[13]

It was believed by some art historians that Gilot's relationship with Picasso is what cut short her artistic career. When she left Picasso, he told all art dealers he knew not to purchase her art,[14] whereas Gilot herself noted that continuing to identify her in relation to Picasso "does her a great disservice as an artist."[13]

Picasso and Gilot never married, but they did have two children together because he promised to love and care for them.[15] Their son, Claude, was born in 1947, and their daughter, Paloma, was born in 1949.[11] During their 10 years together, Gilot was often harassed on the streets of Paris by Picasso's legal wife, Olga Khokhlova, a Russian former ballet dancer, and Picasso physically abused her as well.[14][16][17] Gilot's biographer Sacha Llewelyn writes:

Picasso, enraged, destroyed her possessions, including artworks, books and her treasured letters from Matisse. Telling her she was "headed straight for the desert", he then set out to destroy her career. Mobilising all his networks, he demanded that the Louise Leiris Gallery stop representing Gilot and that she no longer be invited to exhibit at the Salon de Mai. Explained away as the unfortunate behaviour of a moody genius, today this aggressive intervention is finally being seen for what it was: the devastating actions of a bully[18]

In 1964, 11 years after their separation, Gilot wrote Life with Picasso (with the art critic Carlton Lake),[19] a book that sold over one million copies in dozens of languages,[20] despite an unsuccessful legal challenge from Picasso attempting to stop its publication. From then on, Picasso refused to see Claude or Paloma ever again.[19] All the profits from the book were used to help Claude and Paloma mount a case to become Picasso's legal heirs.[21]

Gilot's work[edit]

Gilot was introduced to art at a young age by her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother had held a party when Françoise was about five years old. A certain man caught Gilot's eye as being interesting, and she asked her grandmother who the man was. He turned out to be a painter, Emile Mairet.[7][22] Gilot's father became close friends with the painter, and Françoise would often tag along to visit his studio.[10] At age six, Françoise's mother began teaching her art, with the exception of drawing. Her mother believed artists become too dependent on erasers and instead taught Françoise in watercolor and India ink. If she made a mistake, she would have to make it intentional to her work. By the age of 13, she began to study with Mlle. Meuge, which continued for six years.[7] At the age of 14, she was introduced to ceramics and a year later, she studied with the Post-Impressionist painter Jacques Beurdeley.[10] At the age of 21, she met Picasso. Although Picasso had influenced Gilot's work as a cubist painter, she developed her own style. She avoided the sharp edges and angular forms that Picasso sometimes used. Instead, she used organic figures. During World War 2, Gilot's father attempted to save the most valuable household belongings by moving them, but the truck was bombed by the Nazis, leading to the loss of Gilot's drawings and watercolors.[11]

Gilot was active in the post-War milieu of artists who redefined the European artistic scene. Gilot had her first important exhibition in Paris in 1943, after which Gilot signed a contract with the renowned art dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler. She was one of only two female artists to ever be signed by him.[23] Her first exhibit with Kahnweiler's famed Galerie Louise Leiris took place in 1952 in Paris, which became a critical moment in her life and career.[23]

Her provocative 1946 work Adam Forcing Eve to Eat an Apple re-examined the Biblical tale taking a fresh look at temptation, punishment and the blaming of women.[24]

The "Labyrinth Series" (1961 - 1963) is one of Gilot's most original and important sequences. In these paintings, she draws upon Greek mythology, personal mythologic, and circus motifs.[4] Gilot's paintings pulse with dynamic rhythm, overthrowing conventions to let her impulses discover intense pictorial equivalences of mythical storytelling.[4]

Concurrent with creating the "Labyrinth Series" of paintings, Gilot was also writing the text for her well-known best seller, Life with Picasso, exploring her ten-year relationship with Pablo Picasso. [4]

Her stature as an artist and the value of her work has increased over the years. In 2021 her painting Paloma à la Guitare, a 1965 portrait of her daughter, sold for $1.3 million at Sotheby's in London. As of January 2022, her work has been on exhibit in multiple leading museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Centre Pompidou.[2] At Christie's in Hong Kong, her artwork entitled "Living Forest," , an abstract canvas created in 1977, also sold for $1.3 million.[2][5]

Francoise Gilot's career lasted eight decades, amassing a body of work comprising 1,600 paintings and 3,600 works on paper.[24] Gilot explained, ""I always knew what I wanted to say, it was how to say it." .[25]

Personal life[edit]

From 1943 to 1953, Gilot was the longtime partner and artistic muse of Pablo Picasso, with whom she had two children, Claude and Paloma.[26]

Gilot married artist Luc Simon in 1955.[27][28] Their daughter Aurélia was born the following year.[11] The couple divorced in 1962.[29]

In 1969, Gilot was introduced to the American polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk[30] at the home of mutual friends in La Jolla, California. Their shared appreciation of architecture led to a brief courtship and a 1970 wedding in Paris.[31] During their marriage, which lasted until Salk's death in 1995, the couple lived apart for half of every year as Gilot continued to paint in New York City, La Jolla, and Paris.[22][6][32]

Once asked what it was in her that attracted such outstanding men, Gilot responded: "I think I am just as interesting as they. Lions mate with lions. They don't mate with mice."[33]

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Gilot designed costumes, stage sets, and masks for productions at the Guggenheim in New York City.[26]

In 1973, Gilot was appointed art director of the scholarly journal Virginia Woolf Quarterly. In 1976, she joined the board of the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, where she taught summer courses and took on organizational responsibilities until 1983.[5][34]

Gilot split her time between New York and Paris, working on behalf of the Salk Institute.[26][30]

In August 2018, Gilot released three sketchbooks that documented the journeys she made in Venice, India, and Senegal.[35]

Gilot died in a New York City hospital on 6 June 2023, at the age of 101, after suffering from heart and lung ailments.[3]


Gilot was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1990.[32] In 2010, she was named an Officer of the Légion d'honneur, the French government's highest honour for the arts.[35]

In popular culture[edit]

Gilot is played by Natascha McElhone in the 1996 film Surviving Picasso,[36] and by Clémence Poésy in the 2018 season of Genius, which focuses on the life and art of Pablo Picasso.[37]


  • Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, McGraw-Hill, 1964; Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1989, ISBN 978-0-385-26186-9
  • Françoise Gilot, Le regard et son Masque, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1975, ISBN 978-2-7021-0092-9 – focuses on her development as an artist.
  • Françoise Gilot, Interface: The Painter and the Mask, Press at California State University, Fresno, 1983, ISBN 978-0-9122-0103-0
  • Barbara Haskell, Françoise Gilot: An Artist's Journey 1943–1987, California State Univ, 1987, ISBN 978-0-912201-12-2; Little, Brown, 1989.
  • Françoise Gilot, Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art, Doubleday, 1990, ISBN 978-0-385-26044-2; New York: Anchor Books, 1992, ISBN 978-0-385-42241-3


  • Françoise Gilot, Mel Yoakum, Françoise Gilot: monograph 1940–2000, Acatos, 2000, ISBN 978-2-940033-36-2


  1. ^ Darwent, Charles (7 June 2023). "Françoise Gilot obituary". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b c La Ferla, Ruth (19 January 2022). "Françoise Gilot: 'It Girl' at 100". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  3. ^ a b Riding, Alan (6 June 2023). "Françoise Gilot, Artist in the Shadow of Picasso, Is Dead at 101". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d "Transitions: Works by Francoise Gilot". 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Riding, Alan (6 June 2023). "Françoise Gilot, Artist in the Shadow of Picasso, Is Dead at 101". The New York Times – via
  6. ^ a b Jacobs, Charlotte Decroes (8 February 2018). "The Last Love of Jonas Salk". Nautilus. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Françoise Gilot". Archived from the original on 2 July 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Françoise Gilot: Artist of the World". Women's Internalional Center. Archived from the original on 8 July 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Françoise Gilot". Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  10. ^ a b c Gilot, Françoise, Monograph 1940–2000. Lausanne: Sylvio Acatos, 2000.
  11. ^ a b c d e Gilot, Francoise and Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. Francoise Gilot: Painting – Malerei. Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2003.
  12. ^ Hawley, Janet. "Pablo was the greatest love of my life ... I left before I was destroyed", Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 2011, p. 14.
  13. ^ a b Brockes, Emma (10 June 2016). "'It was not a sentimental love': Françoise Gilot on her years with Picasso". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  14. ^ a b Doyle, Sady (23 January 2014). "Bertolucci Wasn't the First Man to Abuse a Woman and Call It Art and He Won't Be the Last". Archived from the original on 9 December 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  15. ^ Hawley, Janet, 2011. "Pablo was the greatest love of my life ... I left before I was destroyed", Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July, p. 15.
  16. ^ Museu Picasso Barcelona
  17. ^ Surviving Picasso. DVD. Directed by James Ivory. Culver City, CA: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., 1996.
  18. ^ Lewellyn, Sacha (20 June 2023). "Shunned, boycotted, exiled: has France treated Françoise Gilot worse than Picasso did?". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  19. ^ a b Michael Kimmelman (28 April 1996). Picasso's Family Album Archived 26 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times.
  20. ^ "a book review by Michael Thomas Barry: Life with Picasso (New York Review Books Classics)".
  21. ^ Hawley, Janet, 2011. "Pablo was the greatest love of my life ... I left before I was destroyed", Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July, pp. 19.
  22. ^ a b Lacher, Irene (6 March 1991). "A Place of Her Own : Culture: Francoise Gilot, Picasso's former lover and Jonas Salk's wife, wants to be known not as the companion of great men, but as their equal". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012.
  23. ^ a b Ho, Gigi (9 November 2021). "Christie's and HomeArt Proudly Present: FRANÇOISE GILOT: A CELEBRATION".
  24. ^ a b Hessel, Katy (12 June 2023). "'Blatant sexism': why is a great painter who lived to 101 still defined by a man she left in the 1950s?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
  25. ^ Brockes, Emma (10 June 2016). "'It was not a sentimental love': Françoise Gilot on her years with Picasso". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
  26. ^ a b c Dodie Kazanjian (27 April 2012). "Life After Picasso: Françoise Gilot". Vogue. Archived from the original on 16 March 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  27. ^ Goodman, Wendy (12 December 2019). "At Home With Françoise Gilot". The Cut. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  28. ^ Passenheim, Antje (7 June 2023). "Trauer um Françoise Gilot: Malerin und Picasso-Geliebte gestorben". Tagesschau (in German). Retrieved 7 June 2023.
  29. ^ Holles, Everett R. (16 April 1973). "Picasso's Children Plan to Sue Widow For Part of Estate". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  30. ^ a b "Shades of Merriment". April 2002. Archived from the original on 31 December 2005. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  31. ^ "Bio: 1960–1969". Archived from the original on 24 September 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  32. ^ a b "Bio: 1970–1979". Archived from the original on 24 September 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  33. ^ Fulford, Robert (10 May 2016). "'Lions mate with lions': Introducing Françoise Gilot, The Woman Who Said No to Pablo Picasso". National Post.
  34. ^
  35. ^ a b "Works by Françoise Gilot at Sotheby's (with biography)". Sotheby's. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  36. ^ "Surviving Picasso". Rotten Tomatoes. 4 September 1996. Retrieved 7 June 2023.
  37. ^ "Genius". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 June 2023.

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